Every February, in the depths of Japan’s bone-aching winter, a semi-naked army of nearly 10,000 inebriated men descends on the modest Japanese town of Inazawa in Aichi Prefecture. One might think that this unruly, roaring, testosterone-fuelled mob would shock an otherwise polite, reserved and respectful community, but the 140,000 local people who come out to watch the day’s events aren’t in the least bit fazed. They have in fact been participating in and graciously hosting the Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Man Festival) since 767 AD, when Emperor Shotoku ordered the performance of cleansing ceremonies to rid the land of a quickly spreading plague – a practice that usually took the form of the sacrifice of an unsuspecting passing traveller, lured in by the kind hospitality of the town’s inhabitants.
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- A naoi-zasa is a collection of long bamboo poles tightly held together with cloth. The names, birthdays and wishes of those who cannot participate in the festival, such as women, children or sick men, are written on small pieces of cloth called naoi-gire and placed inside the naoi-zasa. ↩